Romans Chapter Nine

This chapter has proved to be the most difficult one to translate in the entire book because it deals with the theological concept of predestination, and the question of how much free will and control do we have over our destiny and how much is it under the sovereign control of God. Paul works this through heroically and clearly but we have to hear him out in his full argument before we start to draw our own conclusions as to what this grim doctrine might possibly mean. I found the clue was that the doctrine had to measure up and reflect the true character and nature of God – and I mean Father God, in his relationship to his Son and The Holy Spirit.

Paul starts the chapter off by sharing his passion in identifying with his countrymen of Israel. He is grieving for them because they have rejected the message of God to humanity through Jesus Christ and have stuck doggedly to their religion. Paul gives them due credit for being the ones chosen by God for a very significant purpose, to represent him in the earth to other nations as a people who were in a special relationship with the God of all the earth. They were given special promises and entrusted with a special form of religious worship that included Commandments of wisdom from God himself. They were the people that God had protected and on whose behalf he had demonstrated his great power over the elements in performing miracles and wonders for all to see.

However the reality is, as Paul states so firmly, that their purpose has now been fulfilled and is now redundant. That is, their purpose in God’s economy, in preparing the way for Jesus to come into the earth and to join humanity with divinity. That has now been achieved and they must now acknowledge that and get on board with what Jesus has now given to mankind as the way to become one with the God Family - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It is in this context that Paul outlines the authentic predestination and free will doctrine – and it has nothing really to do with who goes to heaven and who doesn’t. In fact it is not a statement about eternal destiny as regards the afterlife – it is about how we respond to the distinct purpose for which we are called in our lifetime on this earth - and in Israel’s case, for their duration as a Nation in the fulfilling of the limited purpose for which they were called. You will see it unfold as you read the ‘Contemporary Aligned’ version. But the pivotal point is in verses 21 and 22 which speaks about the potter and the clay. In the words of the King James version Paul says that ‘the potter has power over the clay to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor… and what if God wants to demonstrate his wrath and endures with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction’.

Well, the point about honor and dishonor really means ‘useful and worthwhile’ OR ‘useless and worthless’. This means HERE AND NOW PURPOSE – not eternal heaven or hell.

And ‘fitted for destruction’ simply means ‘ready for the scrapheap’. That is the case for any and every individual who is shown God’s purpose for them and who stubbornly refuses to accept that - and goes about to determine their own purpose in defiance of God. This is what Pharaoh did, and he gets a mention in the chapter. The ‘scrapheap’ is not hell, but simply where the leftovers or ‘seconds’ end up – not fulfilling their purpose. In Romans chapter 8 and in Ephesians chapter 1 the predestined purpose for Christians is clearly stated – first to be adopted into the God family (through Jesus), and secondly to display the family resemblance (conformed to the image of Christ). The process of the hardening of the heart, as is spoken of in the reference to Pharaoh, is at least a two step process, and involves the person first of all saying no to God deliberately, then being given more chances to reconsider until he has determined to resist God. God is then said to have ‘hardened his heart’.

Paul’s final summary of this account and his conclusion is that ‘they didn’t put faith and trust in God but preferred to work at being right in their own eyes through the merit of their own performance’.

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1 I say to you in all honesty, with Christ as my witness, and with The Holy Spirit as my witness also, through my conscience

2 that I am continually weighed down with heaviness and sorrow in my heart

3 For I could even wish that I myself could be cut off from Christ if it would mean that my brothers, my Jewish kinsmen were not to be cut off from him.

4 who are Israelites, the people whom God took to himself as his children, and in whom he was glorified, and to whom he made solemn covenants, and to whom he gave the Commandments, and also to whom he entrusted all the service of God, and to whom he made great promises,

5 Who are our patriarchs, and as far as flesh and blood is concerned, the ones through whom Christ came to the earth, who is above all, God, blessed forever. Amen.

6 It is not as though the word of God has lost any of its power or promise, because the ‘now’ Israel of God are not all the descendants of the man Israel.

7 Nor are they all the natural descendants of Abraham, because it was Isaac that was to be the promised seed.

8 So it’s not the natural seed that are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as the true seed.

9 The word of promise from God was;

At this time I will act and Sarah shall have a son

10 And not only did this happen, but when Rebecca also conceived through our father Isaac

11 (Now going back to when the children {twin boys} were still in the womb and had not yet done anything good or anything bad, but so that the purpose of God according to his sovereign plan would be seen to operate, and not by anything that we do to deserve it.)

12 It was said to her that the elder twin would serve the younger one.

13 It is even written somewhere ‘I will love Jacob but I will detest Esau’.

14 What do we say to this? Is God unjust? No way!

15 For he said to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

16 So then it is not about how determined a person is, or how carefully they set their course, but it is about God who shows mercy.

17 And the Scripture says about Pharaoh, ‘I have given you this exalted position for the purpose of showing my power in what I do with you, so that my name will be declared throughout all the earth.’

18 Therefore he will be soft on whomever he wants to. He will also be hard on whomever he wants to, whereby their hearts can become stubborn.

19 You might well say to me, ‘How can he then blame that person for even thinking of opposing him?’

20 No, the question is ‘Who are you to dispute things with God? Shall the thing formed say to the one who formed it, why have you made me like this?’

21 Doesn’t the potter have the privilege over the mass of clay to make one vessel of more use and value than another?’

22 What if God in wanting people to see the intensity of his feeling and the force of his power and already having given opportunity to those vessels to respond to him, even though they are now only useful for scrap,

23 Also wants to clearly display the riches of his glory in the vessels of his favour which he had destined for dignity in his purposes.

24 Meaning you and me – all of us, whom he has now called, not just Jews only, but all mankind.

25 As he also said in Hosea ‘I will call them my people who were not my people, and I will call them my beloved which were not my beloved’.

26 And it will come to pass, in the same place where it was said of them that they were not my people, it will now be said of them that they are my offspring – the children of the living God.

27 Isaiah also cried out concerning Israel, saying, though the number of them be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant will be preserved.

28 because he will complete his plan concisely and justly, and the plan will be executed swiftly in the earth.

29 And Isaiah also said before, ‘If the Lord of the Sabbath had not left us a seed, we would have ended up with the same fate as Sodom and Gomorrah.

30 So what do we say to all that then?

Does unbelieving mankind who have never pursued oneness with God, now receive oneness with God, simply by believing in faith what God has done for them?

31 But Israel, who pursued righteousness by following the Law, did not obtain oneness with God through the law.

32 And why? Because they did not have faith and trust in God, but they preferred to work at being right in their own eyes through the merit of their own performance.

33 As it is written ‘Behold I lay a Rock in Zion that will trip people up, but whoever trusts in that ‘Rock’ will never feel worthless or useless.

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